A bill currently before the Fijian parliament for the creation of a Broadcast Licensing Authority would provide the government with a way to control the news media, Reporters Without Borders warned today.
“By replacing the existing regulatory body, the Fiji Media Council, by a new entity whose members would all be named by the information ministry, the government is trying to equip itself with a mechanism for controlling the media,” the press freedom organisation said.
“The management of broadcast licences should not be entrusted to an offshoot of the government,” Reporters Without Borders continued. “We call for a revision of the bill to ensure that the media regulatory body is independent of the government.”
According to the bill currently before a parliamentary select committee, the information minister would appoint all six members of the proposed Broadcast Licensing Authority, which would have the power to assign and withdraw broadcast licences, a role currently played by the independent Fiji Media Council. The proposed BLA would also have a say as regards programme content.
The Fijian media, which for the most part did not get a copy of the bill until a few days before its submission to parliament, has condemned the government’s failure to consult them. An editorial in the Fiji Sun on 24 August called it a “gagging tool.” The head of the parliamentary select committee that is currently examining the bill, Simione Kaitani, said the proposed authority was needed to ensure the independence of Fiji’s media, and called on the public to support it.